We Need To Embrace Our Adult Crushes
My unrequited, 10-year Crush hasn’t gone anywhere, and it didn’t need to in order to make my life better.
A little while ago, I was talking with some friends about the world of dating. It was a long and rambling discussion, as some of the best conversations with friends tend to be. But eventually, we hit upon the topic of how to best handle rejection.
More specifically, how to handle having a crush that is never going to go anywhere. Maybe the subject of your Crush has no interest in you. Or perhaps one or both of you are in relationships already and so are unable to explore those feelings.
And most of us agreed on the standard answers, namely just be a grown-up and move on. A crush is a crush. None of us are teenagers anymore. If we are completely undone by a simple attraction to someone we can't have, we have bigger problems than unrequited affection.
But one of my wiser friends offered a different point of view; why not just enjoy the Crush while it lasts?
Ah, the Crush. That enthralling attraction to another human being. The butterflies that flit around your stomach. The warmth that fills you when they are close. The pain of taking every interaction you have with them and trying to work out if it was a sign they might like you in the same way.
Most of us equate crushes with being a teenager. That's a terrifying time in our lives, and a large part of it involves experiencing romantic and sexual attraction to people.
But did you know there are two kinds of Crush? There is the Identity Crush and the Romantic Crush.
- Identity Crushes are formed on someone you admire and wish to emulate, such as a leader or role model.
- Romantic Crushes are formed on someone you find powerfully attractive and are excited to be around.
But one thing that is important to remember is that Crushes are superficial. A Crush will involve us creating a fantasy or idealised version of someone in our heads. A version of them that we either want to be with or to impress. This is why so many Crushes fade away once we get to know someone. Reality is simply less exciting than the truth.
Now, I don't know exactly what causes us to have crushes on people or why are they are more all-consuming as teenagers but not as adults. I've found articles that talk about things like hormones and pheromones and how we perhaps simply learn to control these as we grow up. But, eventually, we leave these adolescent crushes behind us. We learn how to handle them, so they don't consume our lives.
But that doesn't mean they go away.
The Unrequited Crush
I've had a crush on one of my friends for almost a decade.
For the purposes of this article, we'll call them "Red". They are attractive, fun, and we have many shared interests. If I'd been single when we met, I would almost certainly have asked her out. But alas, I was in a very happy relationship at the time. This didn't stop Red and me from becoming friends, though. And over the years, that friendship grew, as did her friendship with my then partner. Over time, or so I thought, the Crush simply faded away.
But I now realise that this isn't the case. In fact, my Crush on them has continued all this time. I'd simply folded it into my life.
Now I'm not saying I've been secretly in love with them this whole time. As I mentioned above, Crushes are superficial. I know Red far too well now to believe that I have some unrequited passion. What it means is my relationship with Red has simply had a little something extra. We don't see each other that often, but when we make plans to hang out, there's just that little bit of extra excitement. I feel that little bit happier when I do something that impresses them. We're just a little bit more touchy-feely than I would be with other friends.
I think Lucia F. O Sullivan, Professor of Psychology at the University of New Brunswick, puts it best:
Research indicates that adults in relationships who develop an attraction to someone else (let's call it a "crush" despite the diminutive associations given to that term) mostly experience the Crush as entertainment—someone to distract you, someone to add a little magic unicorn sparkle dust to your day, someone to inspire you to make the effort in dressing, presenting, or finalising that report. All good. No negative impact overall.
This is what I mean when I talk about "Enjoying your Crush".
A quick note
I feel I need to make an important point here.
Your Crush is not required to respond in any way to your feelings. Nor do you get points for being such a "Good Guy" and having no expectations. This isn't a "Look how great I am at handling rejection; you should fall in love with me now" situation. This is about taking your feelings, recognising them for what they are, and adding a tiny bit of excitement to an existing relationship.
Please try not to be creepy. It's not a good look.
Accepting, And Enjoying, A Crush
We all have crushes, even as adults.
It might be a friend, a work colleague, or someone you just see on the train into work every morning. But if there is a reason you can't act on it - maybe you're in a relationship or a position of authority - we've learned to tell ourselves it's not real. But this isn't the truth. The chemicals in our brain don't care about the social structures that prevent us from acting on attraction.
But we need to accept we can have - and enjoy - a Crush without acting on it or changing our existing relationships in any way.
My Crush on Red was something I couldn't act on when it was fresh and new. But I didn't let that ruin what was possible. We became good friends. Seeing them made me happy in the same way seeing any friend would, but with that extra dash of excitement.
In fact, in the time we've known each other, we've both been available at the same time. I could have pursued them and seen if we could have built something more. But, being honest, I think I enjoy what we have now more than I might if we actually starting seeing each other. The best way I can describe it is that I've someone captures that simmering feeling of "Well, maybe something might happen…". The thrill of possibility, even when I know nothing more will happen.
This is what I mean when I say you can enjoy an unrequited Crush. Just because you can't act on it, you can internalise it, fold it into your life, and just take the benefits without any expectations.